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Obama wins hearts in Hanoi by citing Vietnamese literature

Thursday, May 26, 2016, 17:18 GMT+7

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke before a hall of over 2,000 Vietnamese on Tuesday in Hanoi, addressing progress in Vietnam-U.S. relations and sharing his vision for mutual development.

After spending his first day in Vietnam meeting key government officials and tasting Vietnam’s signature pork and noodle dish ‘bun cha’, President Obama took the stage at My Dinh National Convention Center in Hanoi at noon on Tuesday to speak in front of over 2,000 Vietnamese students, intellectuals, and young entrepreneurs.

From the early morning, security at the venue had been tightened, as incoming guests were required to go through security checks similar to those at the airport, which included body temperature monitoring and a thorough belongings inspection.

Greeting the crowd in Vietnamese, the president kicked off his speech by expressing his gratitude for “the warm welcome and the hospitality” from the Vietnamese government and people.

“I feel the friendship between our peoples,” Obama exclaimed as he mentioned “the many people who have been lining the streets, smiling and waving” in his welcome to Vietnam.

The president then went on to talk about the “difficult history” between the two countries who were adversaries in the American war in Vietnam half a century ago, but stressed that he visited Vietnam this time “mindful of the past, but focused on the future – the prosperity, security, and human dignity that we can advance together.”

Obama said in his remarks that Vietnam’s territory had not always been for the Vietnamese people to rule over the course of history, before citing a verse from 11th-century Vietnamese army general Ly Thuong Kiet’s poem ‘Nam Quoc Son Ha’ (The Southern Land), which is considered Vietnam’s first declaration of independence.

“The Southern emperor rules the Southern land. Our destiny is writ in Heaven’s Book,” the president recited, in a move that could be seen as an answer to Beijing’s increasing assertiveness over the East Vietnam Sea.

Speaking about the millions of lives that had been lost during the war between the U.S. and Vietnam and the pain and suffering that the two peoples had endured because of the war, President Obama asserted that “war, no matter what our intentions may be, brings suffering and tragedy.”

However, the president stressed, the war that had divided the two countries had become “a source for healing.”

“Our people are now closer than ever before,” Obama said, mentioning how Vietnam had the largest number of students pursuing education in the U.S. among Southeast Asian countries, and how more and more American tourists were choosing Vietnam as their destination.

“From now, we know each other’s homeland; from now, we learn to feel for each other,” the president recited the lyrics of a Vietnamese song that honors peace and post-war reconciliation.

“Today,” Obama said, “Vietnam and the United States are partners.”

Moving on to the talk about the comprehensive partnership between Vietnam and the U.S., President Obama reaffirmed Vietnam’s inalienable sovereignty over its territory to loud applause from the audience, “Vietnam is an independent, sovereign nation, and no other nation can impose its will on you or decide your destiny.”

The president also shared his vision for mutual development in decades to come, which included creating “real opportunity and prosperity” for all people, ensuring mutual security, and addressing areas where the two governments disagree.

“Nations are sovereign, and no matter how large or small a nation may be, its sovereignty should be respected, and its territory should not be violated,” the president underlined. “Big nations should not bully smaller ones. Disputes should be resolved peacefully.”

“The United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and we will support the right of all countries to do the same,” Obama added.

“As you pursue the future that you want,” President Obama said in his closing remarks, “I want you to know that the United States of America will be right there with you as your partner and as your friend.”

The president concluded his speech by reciting another Vietnamese poem, this time celebrated 18th-century poet Nguyen Du’s ‘Truyen Kieu’ (The Tale of Kieu), which reads, “Please take from me this token of trust, so we can embark upon our 100-year journey together.”

President Barack Obama’s remarks at the National Convention Center were part of his working agenda on a three-day visit to Vietnam from May 23 to 25, during which time the president visited the capital Hanoi and the country’s commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City.

President Obama will leave Ho Chi Minh City en route to Japan at noon Wednesday to attend the 2016 G7 Summit.

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